Cutthroat BusinessWhy do we encourage and celebrate ruthless, cutthroat business? (“Never let’ em see you sweat”…right?)

What exactly are we saying?

Never allow yourself to be affected or afraid or honest?

Or don’t let others see that side of you?

What kind of advice is that?

Our definitions need an overhaul and here’s why:  We all feel.

Look around.

It’s called the human condition and it is a wonderful thing.

Just because it’s business doesn’t mean we should work to abandon our emotional, human side, even though that is what we are told and sold.

It is not weakness to show people who we are; it is strength that allows us to do that.

It is a brave thing to feel; it is much easier to go numb.

When you engage in Machiavellian business behaviors you sell yourself short. People do business with other trustworthy, authentic people. Not unfeeling, polished ideas of who you are, but YOU.

Think back to a time when you wanted to do business with someone or support a cause in any way you could. Why did you want to support that person or that cause? I am guessing it was because they were honest and real, and you believed in them or their cause. Not because he/she presented a cold, polished façade – but because you believed in what they were about, you believed in that person.

My husband and I use a phrase for that …we say: “I would follow him into the fire.” Intuitively we find that person honest and authentic and compelling.

There is no shiny façade.

There is no bulls*it.

There is only real.

It happens everywhere …

It is your business partner who respectfully admits that something feels yucky and asks (without accusation) if there is something to be discussed.

It is your colleague who respectfully asks what a business meeting is about after sitting around a table for an hour going in circles (when they know everyone else is thinking the same thing) because his value isn’t tied to how he appears to others.

It is your future business associate who works to create a system that everyone benefits from, even when it means a little less for her because she understands that your greater good is also her greater good.

It is your friend and mentor who respectfully challenges you because he knows you are settling for a lesser vision or version of who you are.

Here is what we are really talking about: our erroneous, underlying belief that if we are honest or vulnerable – if we let them see us sweat – then they have some kind of advantage over us, or perhaps we appear less capable or talented.

But, when our business dealings are a reflection of who we are, we don’t need to manage perceptions.

The best example I can think of is a mentor and friend. He goes about his work with a quiet, non-judgmental and powerful confidence. He doesn’t need to beat his chest about anything (especially his success) because he is deeply aware of his value.

He is honest, humble and brilliant and doesn’t ascribe to the “never let ‘em see you sweat” mantra.

If something is difficult, he says so.

If something doesn’t feel right, he explores his gut feeling respectfully.

If he doesn’t trust someone, he doesn’t do business with them. He will walk away before he will compromise who he is.

But there is never a façade.

We are given opportunities every day to be real or present a façade.

I was given one of these opportunities recently when I closed a business I owned. I was blown away at the number of emails I received from clients lashing out at us. There were very few questions. Few people made an attempt to understand a decision that was very difficult for us to make – mostly they just threw punches. I was tempted to present a tough exterior while fighting back.

But instead, I decided to be transparent about how I received their scathing emails and wrote back asking for grace and the benefit of the doubt. I explained that our decision was something we agonized over.

The results delighted me.

Most clients apologized for coming out swinging and making assumptions.

Sure, there are times when you know someone is trying to roll over you and you need to play hardball.  And while it’s true we need to be strategic in business, we also need to be ourselves. These ideas are not mutually exclusive.

Like everything in life, it is a delicate balance. It is about knowing who you are and how you want to exist in this world, and then making decisions that reflect you – and business decisions are no exception.

The humble, powerful confidence that my mentor exudes comes from knowing who he is; it comes from the strength he finds in being transparent and humble.  It comes from understanding that good business is more about hard work, authenticity, passion and a compelling idea more than it has ever been about a façade.